If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. (Nelson Mandela).
This week I was delighted to accompany four girls from V Senior to the University of St Andrews “meet and mingle” event run by the school of modern languages. Pupils from a number of schools from across Scotland had the opportunity to meet with current students of modern languages and to hear for themselves not only about the courses offered and what they entail, but also about the exciting opportunities offered by a year spent studying abroad, as well as about the wider life of the university and St Andrews in general.
English can get you so far…but languages will take you further
The importance of learning a foreign language cannot, and should not, be underestimated. Yes, English is a global language but it can only get you so far, when you consider that only around 6% of the world’s population are native English speakers and around three-quarters do not speak English at all. Many English speakers mistakenly believe that no matter where you go, all you have to do is enunciate your words slowly and turn up the volume and you will be understood. However, if you really want to get to know a country, its culture and its people better, then having a knowledge of at least the basics of the local language will put you at a great advantage. Languages can open up the warmth of a culture to you; communicating with people in their own language shows respect, builds bridges and allows you to make friendships across borders.
Learning a language is a long-term investment
…for you, your career, and society in general. The knowledge of another language – even at a lower level of proficiency - will whet the appetite for travel, broaden horizons and open doors. Language skills are critical to widening opportunities and promoting social and economic integration; indeed, such skills are a prized commodity that will undoubtedly give you the edge in the increasingly competitive global job market. It is not just about clear and confident communication: learning a foreign language will enhance your critical thinking and problem solving; you will gain a better understanding of your own language; and, very importantly, you will have a global outlook and a well-rounded education.
Languages open doors to the person you are going to be tomorrow
Every language you learn – whether at school or in higher education – will give you access to a world of exciting opportunities. Multi-lingualism is an asset that will promote a lifetime of effective communication, whether in your career or in your personal life. This is what the girls had to say:
Emma: The students seemed very passionate about their subjects and were keen to share what they study.
Elise: It was great to meet other pupils who are interested in languages and to learn more about the courses and student life in general at St Andrews.
Gabrielle: All of the students were so friendly and it was interesting to hear about all the choices and flexibility available within the school of Modern Languages.
Anna: It was an amazing opportunity to meet with like-minded people and to gain useful information about the language courses and about the university.
Of course, not everyone wants to study languages per se; however, it is worth considering the multitude of other options available for combining the study of a language along with other disciplines, whether in the arts and humanities, sciences, engineering or law. Around 70% of UK firms say that foreign languages benefit their business and many are concerned about missing out on opportunities due to language skills shortages. In the words of Willy Brandt, former German Chancellor:
If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. But if I’m buying dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen.
Learning a foreign language is not just about acquiring vocabulary and grammar; it is learning new sounds, expressions and ways of seeing things. Languages are creative, mind-expanding and life-enhancing – think about what they can do for the person you are going to be tomorrow.
Mrs S. Lynch